A Chinese University study has highlighted a non-invasive way of helping stroke patients recover, using a massage-like technique to promote blood flow through the brain.
The S.H. Ho Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke Centre released the study on Tuesday, which found that the external counterpulsation (ECP) treatment – already in use for heart attack patients – is an effective way to promote recovery in victims of ischemic strokes.
ECP promotes blood flow to the brain with inflatable air cuffs that are wrapped around patients’ hips, thighs and calves. The cuffs inflate and deflate in a rhythm linked to the patients’ electrocardiogram, promoting blood flow from the lower limbs with a massage-like motion.
The study followed 32 moderately disabled stroke patients with a mean age of 68, whose treatment began six days after their stroke, on average.
They were given one-hour ECP treatments for 35 days, and it increased their blood pressure by 13 per cent, heart function by 74 per cent, and blood flows to each side of the brain by 9 per cent.
Professor Lawrence Wong Ka-sing – head of the neurology division in the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics – headed the study from September 2009 to December 2010. Professor Thomas Leung Wai-hong said: “The new, non-invasive treatment is like a traditional Chinese massage. I don’t think it causes much discomfort for the patient.”
Tuesday’s press conference was attended by one patient, a Mr Lee, 53, whose stroke in July left half his body unable to function normally. But yesterday he was able to walk freely, and Wong said his recovery was much more advanced than it would have been with traditional methods.
Even the “collateral” circulation of blood vessels – which does not travel directly to the brain – was improved by the technique, Leung noted. This in turn improves the heart function.
There are about 25,000 new stroke cases and over 3,000 deaths a year in Hong Kong, the research team said.
The study’s results have been published in the September issue of the US journal Stroke.
Wong said the next phase will study 200 patients to learn the long-term impact of the treatment.